An interview with Paul Gordon, writer of the upcoming Festival show Analog and Vinyl, about revisiting his musical roots and just how different developing Analog and Vinyl is from working on his 2006 Festival show Emma. Interview conducted by NAMT’s Program Intern Audra LaBrosse.
NAMT: Analog and Vinyl marks your second time as part of the Festival. What part of your experience with Emma in 2006 drew you back?
PAUL GORDON: The Festival is such a wonderful opportunity, not only to show your work to a large theatre community, but it also allows the authors to see their work in an entirely different light, as we are required to present the essence of the work in 45 minutes. This forces you to truly identify what’s important in your storytelling and make hard choices. With Emma,the big discovery was having the character of Emma break the fourth wall through narration, a device we use today that never would have been discovered without the Festival. The Festival directly led to many first class regional productions of Emma and a possible Broadway future.
NAMT: Has the Festival process so far revealed or refined anything about Analog and Vinyl?
PG: Absolutely. When you condense your script to 45 minutes you learn things about the storytelling you didn’t know before. My biggest challenge with Analog and Vinyl was trying to balance the songs between the two leading characters. Once I cut the script down, the character of Harrison was short changed on songs at the beginning of the show, so I decided to write a new song just for the festival called “My Mythology.” Now I can’t imagine doing the show without that song. The Festival has already improved the show and we’re not even in rehearsals yet.
NAMT: Tell us a bit about the genesis of Analog and Vinyl.
PG: Analog and Vinyl’s original title was: “Analog and Vinyl: A Jukebox Musical of Songs That Nobody Has Ever Heard of That Were Never Hits.” (Too long?) A few years ago I decided to write a musical based on my own catalogue of pop songs that I used to perform myself back when I was a singer-songwriter playing clubs around Los Angeles. I wrote the first draft of the show as an exercise for myself to see if I could write a jukebox musical. Since I did not have access to a famous music catalogue, I decided to use my own, which I own and control myself. So I took one song and imagined a story around that one song and I began writing the book. Then an odd thing happened. I ended up being more drawn to the book than I was to the score. I felt that half of the songs just felt clunky and didn’t work. So I threw those songs out and wrote new songs. I re-wrote lyrics to the few remaining “original” songs. Then I tweaked the book more. And slowly, organically over time, it became a hybrid of something entirely new.
NAMT: The music for Analog and Vinyl might be a surprise to those who know you from Jane Eyre. Have you always wanted to write a musical with a more pop-influenced score?
|Emma at member theatre The Old Globe
PG: I think what people don’t know about me is that I started my career as a pop songwriter. I’ve had a few #1 hits as a pop songwriter (Peter Cetera and Amy Grants “Next Time I Fall,” among a few others), and my songs have appeared on many gold and platinum records. When I wrote Jane Eyre– that was the surprise, not the other way around. So Analog and Vinyl is actually closer to my musical roots than Jane Eyre or Emma.
NAMT: What changes in your approach to writing pop songs for a musical versus for a non-dramatic context?
PG: When writing songs for Warner/Chappell, Universal and EMI, I would simply write about my latest romantic crush or heartbreak and it all worked out pretty well. But after a while I got pretty sick of myself and writing about myself. When I started working on Jane Eyre for the first time it was an amazing epiphany. Here was a wealth of genius and experience that I could basically plagiarize and turn into songs that were not about me. I was in heaven. And it actually felt easier than staring at a blank page, trying to find a phrase that hadn’t already been used a thousand times and didn’t feel generic. Once I started adapting from novels, the lyrics became fresher, more finely tuned and connected to a larger story, and songwriting became exciting again. And I am no longer under any outside artistic pressure for my life to be interesting.
NAMT: All of Analog and Vinyl‘s components (book, music, and lyrics) were written by you alone. How is the solo process different from a collaboration with other writers?
PG: Well, for one thing, when I write all the components myself, I’m writing in a vacuum and it’s more challenging to evaluate your own work when your writing partner is not sitting across from you saying, “well, that could be better.” I love working with John Caird because he’s never afraid to tell me that what I’ve just written is crap. (He never says the word “crap.” He’ll just say that’s a CDB—”could do better.”) When I’m writing on my own I am always afraid that what I’m writing is crap—and if John were here he’d tell me so—but he isn’t, so I must decide for myself whether or not if what I’m writing is truly crap or worthy of at least another listen. So that’s the big disadvantage. The upside is that eventually critics will tell you you’re crap, so there’s no real worry there. But I truly enjoy writing everything myself, especially as a first draft.
NAMT: As mentioned, Analog and Vinyl is an original musical, but you have written a number of adaptations as well. What do you like about the process of creation for each?
PG: Creating an original story is much more difficult than doing an adaptation and here’s why: with an adaptation you know going in—the story works. That part is done. (And that’s huge.) The tricky thing with an adaptation is deciding which parts of the story to tell and which parts to leave out. Not easy, but not nearly as difficult as creating an engaging original story that hasn’t stood the test of time. But I love writing original stories simply because it is so challenging. And I also enjoy the freedom it gives me to go anywhere and do anything.
With Analog and Vinyl I was able to express myself in a world uninhabited by corsets and Regency dresses. My characters can finally say four letter words and use slang. When I break out my rhyming dictionary I can consider words used past the 1900’s. With that said, I just got through adapting another novel and I absolutely loved the experience. For entirely opposite reasons. I loved the limitations, simply because I trust the author and I know the linear storytelling is completely in place. I love the framework a novel gives me and I love knowing how it’s all going to turn out before I begin.
NAMT: Not having a plot to work off of, did you ever surprise yourself with where the story was going while writing Analog and Vinyl?
PG: Yes. I remember reading something Neil Simon said years ago—although he always outlined his plot points—he let his characters tell him where the story was going. In writing Analog and Vinyl, I had plotted in my head “the plot,” but once I started writing, the characters had different ideas and I just went with it. I was actually surprised when the story veered towards the metaphysical, that was not my original intention. But I’m grateful for the character of Satan. He was actually much friendlier than I had anticipated.